Police Failure And Incompetence In Pakistan Has Led To Missing Girls And Women

Police Failure And Incompetence In Pakistan Has Led To Missing Girls And Women
Grayscale Photo of Women in Hijab. Source: © Tima Miroshnich/Pexels, 2020


Kirsten O’Connell

Pakistan and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

In Pakistan, the case of Sobia Batool reached the Supreme Court and revealed 3,571 girls and women remain missing across Punjab province due to kidnappings. The police records declare these girls and women as “not recovered” as no one, including the police and families, are aware of their whereabouts, and all allegedly due to kidnappings in the last four years. The police report provided to the court brought to the forefront disturbing figures of 40.585 girls and women that have been abducted between 2017 and January 2022 from all 36 districts of Punjab province. The police claim to have recovered or traced 37,140 of these girls and women and have arrested 53, 459 suspects. However, due to the lack of disaggregated data, it is not known how many of those were actually arrested, convicted or what became of the cases at all (Chaudhry, 2022). 

In the recent Sobia Batool case being heard by the Supreme Court, Sargodha police traced the bodies of 20 unidentified women from various districts in Punjab. The police launched a search operation for Batool and sought help from several State institutions during the investigation. When they discovered the unidentified bodies, they extended the scope of the investigation after some police experts feared Batool may have been killed. The Punjab Forensic Science Agency was engaged in the investigation and sent DNA samples, however, the reports of 10 of the bodies suggested none of them belong to Batool. Further reports of other bodies are in waiting (Chaudhry, 2022). 

Furthermore, a senior police officer told Dawn that in some kidnapping cases, the suspects would often lure young girls with a marriage proposal. The women would then be murdered after sexual abuse and their bodies dumped in order to conceal the crime. The Sargodha District Police Officer Dr. Rizwan Ahmed Khan, a few days ago, during the hearing of Sobia Batool in the Supreme Court, submitted a report revealing the recovery of 151 girls abducted in Sargodha district out of which 21 were rescued from prostitution dens. The three-member bench of the court heard the kidnapping case registered at Sargodha’s Shahpur Saddar police station on August 28, 2020. It appears Batool has yet to be recovered despite the arrest of 16 suspects. The Supreme Court during the hearing expressed anger at the police and directed Punjab Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan to take available steps to recover Batool (Chaudhry, 2022). 

The court placed further blame of the abductions on police for their failure and incompetence and lax recovery methods despite First Information Reports (FIRs) being lodged.  The Punjab police data revealed that out of the 3,571 women still missing, most of them disappeared from Lahore. Of these women, 136 women were reported to be abducted in 2017, 234 in 2018, 344 in 2019, 462 in 2020, while 2021 witnessed the most alarming number, as 2,395 girls and women were allegedly kidnapped in Punjab. The most kidnappings in Lahore showed 76 in 2017, 141 in 2018, 235 in 2019, 313 in 2020 and 1,098 in 2021. The data also revealed that 267 girls and women had been kidnapped from Sheikhupura region since 2017, 236 from Gujranwala, 374 from Rawalpindi, four from Sargodha, 143 from Faisalabad, 338 from Multan, 151 from Sahiwal, 78 from Dera Ghazi Khan and 117 from Bahawalpur region (Chaudhry, 2022). 

The issue of these girls and women disappearing highlights the police inability or negligence to pursue these cases until courts order them to do it. It’s also worth noting, many of these girls and women belong to underprivileged areas and families, so the authorities don’t even recognise their kidnappings and instead dismiss them as elopements with any inquiry. The possibility of the abducted girls and women being trafficked for sex internally or externally is not even thought about. Furthermore, since the police do not have a disaggregated data system on the ‘rescued’ girls and women, it is difficult to say how many were forced into sex trafficking or prostitution. Nonetheless, the Sargodha police report underlines that a significant number of them are lured into sex trafficking, but its difficult to say how many are smuggled abroad (Chaudhry, 2022). 

Moreover, a senior police officer told Dawn, and said he believes most of the girls and women are kidnapped on the pretext of marriage. “Under a policy, we lodge each case under abduction charges despite knowing that in some cases these girls have eloped to avoid forced marriages by their families.” He stated this as a matter of fact, citing many years of experience in dealing with such cases and preliminary inquiries even before registering FIRs. The senior police officer claims only a small number of these girls and women end up being sold for sex trafficking, and further stated that it needs thorough investigation to confirm how many are kidnapped for trafficking, sold into prostitution or elope. He stated such cases have become a common practice in Pakistan and most were surfacing in rural areas in large numbers (Chaudhry, 2022). 

The senior police officer further stated, some of those recovered have to face allegations from their families of being sexually exploited, and this brings ‘dishonour’ upon the family and stated that in such situations the girls usually fell prey to organised prostitution dens. He further stated there were 151 that have been kidnapped from various parts of Punjab province and added declaring such disappearances would fall drastically when families shunned forced marriages. Furthermore, according to Sara Sheraz, resident director of Aurat Foundation Punjab, “When girls from rural areas or under-privileged households are kidnapped, their parents don’t follow up in most cases or don’t even accept their daughters thereafter for bringing dishonour to the family. In some instances, families file kidnap cases if girls elope to escape forced marriages. The reporting of kidnapping is generally also very low due to resistance from families, who lack resources to pursue the cases. The sex trafficking is also a factor here, but it’s not reported or probed. The police also show an indifferent attitude (Chaudhry, 2022).”

Sources and further reading: Chaudhry, A. (2022, February 25). Where are Punjab’s missing daughters? DAWN.COM. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1676937